“Hi Christine! It’s been a long time since we’ve chatted and caught up. I’m sorry I haven’t reached out to you. Now that tax season is over, I wanted to see if you’d like to get together for lunch sometime. Are you available in the next few weeks for a lunch date? Look forward to hearing from you!”
I recently received the above email from a friend. Not a best friend. But someone I’d once considered a good friend nonetheless. We attended the same university, majored in similar things, graduated together, attended each other’s bachelorette parties, showers, weddings, etc. Since college we’ve stayed in regular communication, moving to the same town, entering related professions, periodically meeting for lunch, and planning fun weekend get-togethers with other mutual friends from our college years.
Until Matthew died…
I mostly haven’t heard from her. I think she replied to the text I sent informing her of his death, maybe sent a follow up text a couple of weeks later, maybe signed her name to a group gift… Otherwise, crickets. And I haven’t seen her either. Not once in ten months.
This isn’t to say the things she did weren’t appreciated. They were, and they still are. This also isn’t to say that she’s a bad person, or that had the roles been reversed I would have done much better. She’s a good person, and I only *think* I would have done better – at the very least visited, offered a hug, listened to her talk about her child, texted a few times to say “thinking of you.” Though I acknowledge that it’s difficult to be certain of anything. Because the roles aren’t reversed…
So, alas, here we sit. It’s been almost a year, and I receive this email asking, “Do you want to go to lunch?”
And I think my answer is, “Actually, I’d prefer that we not.”
It isn’t that I’m overtly angry with her or that I hate her or that I didn’t value our friendship or that some tiny piece of me doesn’t want to see her. At worst, I consider her to be a nice person, yet a major avoider, who, for whatever reason, couldn’t be there for me in the way that I needed. And, while I admit I find it curious that she drove across the state to see a mutual friend’s newborn shortly after Matthew died, when, in the meantime, I’ve yet to see her at all, I’m also not mortally wounded by her behavior. I’m fortunate others have been there for me. I’m still here. I’ve survived without her.
I’m slightly put off by her email. Though it says, “I’m sorry I haven’t reached out to you,” it doesn’t expressly ask, “How are you?” or say, “I’ve been thinking of you,” or, “You’ve been on my heart.” Nor does it mention Matthew’s name. In a way, it seems to be yet another (at least partial) act of avoidance. (Though I suppose she could have just not emailed me at all.) And, also, whether or not it’s her intention it leaves me thinking, “Oh, okay, so now that you think the storm has blown over you feel comfortable contacting me?” which is a pretty shitty thought.
But probably none of these things are bad enough to warrant writing her off forever. As Mark even pointed out, I could simply just show up and talk about Matthew, no matter how uncomfortable it makes her or attempt to play the how-long-will-it-take-for-you-to-acknowledge-what-happened game. It really wouldn’t be that hard…
But here’s the deal… A big part of me doesn’t want to see her. Perhaps ever again. And it’s only partially because I feel she’s handled things relatively poorly.
I think another part of it is that I don’t feel as though she’s even emailing the same person – the person she thinks she’s emailing. Sure, the email appeared in my inbox. It says, “Hi Christine!” I recognize its sender. But her intended recipient is someone else entirely – the Christine who existed pre-July 13, 2015. And although I know this to be true, she doesn’t appear to.
On July 13 this other Christine split from me. We’re now worlds apart. We’ll never be one in the same again. I’m different now. So different. Not better. Not worse. Just different.
This isn’t to say that I’ve maintained none of my pre-existing relationships. Many of them still exist. The friends with whom I’ve been in contact, I think, see glimpses of the “old” me – I can enjoy a conversation on a lighter topic, and I can laugh. But this is likely only because they’ve been along for the journey in its entirety – the complete devastation, the tears, the ongoing grief, the thoughtful conversations, the sharing of Matthew and his memory, the stress, the anxiety, some healing, the rainbow pregnancy. They know me and how Matthew, and the aftermath of losing him, has shaped me into who I am today. And new friends will come to know me for who I am currently, which includes Matthew.
But old friends like this one who’ve simply vanished and are now reappearing? I’m just not sure. I’m not sure she knows who she’s even reaching out to. She knows nothing of my devastation, Matthew’s meaning to me, my grief journey, my work struggles, this blog, Jay… Nothing. And I’m honestly not sure I have the energy to catch her up on it. And, if I never catch her up on it, although I don’t want my tragedy to define me, it will indeed forever be a defining moment in my life, and I’m not sure I can continue a genuine friendship with my knowledge that she likely understands nothing of the weight of what I’ve been through, swooping in when she perceives life to be simpler and happier for me.
I recently heard the lyrics of a song by Danny Gokey, who tragically lost his first wife to cancer a few years ago, right before his stint on American Idol. (It now appears he’s a successful contemporary Christian artist.)
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be
Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again
And I think some of these lyrics explain my feelings… Especially, “Yesterdays a closing door. You don’t live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you’ve been. Tell your heart to beat again.”
And I don’t take this to mean that Matthew’s my yesterday and that I need to forget him. This would be impossible. He’s part of my past, my present, and my future. My heart beats the sound of his name. Forever.
But what I do take it to mean is this… It’s a continued struggle, but sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like my heart might actually be beating, in a large part because of those who’ve been with me through everything. And she hasn’t. She’s part of my yesterday. And the door to life as I knew it has closed. The sun has set. She’s reaching out to a Christine I know is gone. And I just don’t know if I can go back to visit her when I’m fighting so damn hard to tell my heart to beat again. Maybe someday, but not right now.
So I think I’m going to find a way to avoid this lunch in the best, most non-hurtful way possible. Like say, “Hi – In the nicest way possible, I’d really rather not see you.” Just kidding. I’m not yet sure how I’ll do it, but I’ll find a way and hopefully update about it here in the future.